India kidnapping: Maoist rebels extend deadline

This undated photograph made available on March 18, 2012, shows Italian national Paolo Bosusco (C) posing with a tribal woman at an undisclosed location in India.
Image caption Mr Bosusco runs an adventure tourism agency in Orissa

Maoist rebels in eastern India have extended a deadline for their demands to met in exchange for returning two Italian men they kidnapped last week to late Wednesday.

The rebels have demanded an end to military operations against them and the release of jailed Maoists.

A deadline of Sunday for their list of 13 demands was earlier extended to late Tuesday.

The rebels say the two Italians are safe and in good condition.

Paulo Bosusco, 54, and Claudio Colangelo, 61, were seized while trekking in a tribal area of Orissa state, one of several regions of India where Maoist rebels are active.

Talks over the Italians' release are stalled because of differences between the government and rebels over mediators.

On Tuesday, the rebels named three mediators, including one Maoist leader who is in prison.

The government rejected two of the names and announced its list of three mediators. The rebels responded with fresh names as replacements, but one of the replacements has refused to negotiate for the rebels.

No violence

The Maoists have said said they would not engage in violence until the expiry of the deadline and Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said security forces would halt operations against the rebels during talks.

This is the first time Westerners have been kidnapped in Orissa state by Maoists.

Image caption Main states where Maoist groups operate

A Maoist spokesman accused the pair of photographing bathing women.

The Orissa government recently imposed severe restrictions on the movement of tourists inside areas inhabited by tribes people.

Mr Bosusco ran an adventure tourism agency in Orissa while Mr Colangelo was visiting from Italy.

Italian Consul General Joel Melchiori has told the BBC he was working with Orissa officials to find a solution.

The abduction comes at a time of strained relations between Italy and India.

They have been involved in a diplomatic dispute since Indian police arrested two Italian marines a month ago in the southern port of Kochi. The pair are accused of killing two Indian fishermen.

The Maoists have a strong presence in many eastern states, and have been described by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the country's biggest security threat.

In his first remarks on the kidnapping, he said "the abduction of two foreign national recently is a reminder of the challenge to our internal security by Naxal [Maoist] and left-wing extremism."

The rebels say they are fighting for a communist state and for the rights of tribal people and the rural poor.

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